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Meaning Maker

by Layla Leiman / 18.06.2013

The normally rather austere WAM gallery became a kind of playground last night at the joint opening of Tegan Bristow’s Meaning Motion and Nathaniel Stern’s Body Language digital arts exhibitions. The joint exhibition comprises seven large-scale installations that are ‘activated’ by the movements of participants.

Viewed from afar, the exhibition is invisible, just blank screens on the walls. But when you go closer and step into the space of each of the installations, the screens suddenly come to life in weird and surprising ways. Each installation comprises custom-built interactive software that is triggered by motion sensors beaming out of Xboxes.

Stepping into the subtly demarcated space of each installation feels a little like stepping into a computer game. Your body becomes the character on screen, which moves as you move and changes as those motions activate the software. You become an autonomous player, a meaning-maker of your own experience.

Meaning, Motion, Body Language

But each work also explores a particular topic, so that when you activate it, you become a participant in. Bristow’s work UNSAID lures you in with a standing microphone. As you walk up to it words begin flashing on the screen, taunting you to speak into the mike. But as you do, your face is immediately blocked out by the disembodied face of a famous South African politician, in this instance, Zuma’s leering mug. The intention here is to playfully critique the sense of agency we believe we have to affect change through our social media voice.

Another of her works, Chalk Vision, was originally created for a performance piece with dancer Athena Mazarakis to explore the ‘effectivity of motion’. What this means is that complete stillness does not exist in the visual frame. As you move in front of the motion sensor, you create a halo of blue-white waves that seem to represent the energy of the motion itself.

Meaning, Motion, Body Language

Stern’s works combine text and motion. Language is our predominant meaning-making medium, but this is undermined through interacting with his installations. As you move, you override the text, change it, and push it away from comprehension. Your body, alive on the screen, becomes a new kind of meaning-making medium.

The installations that comprise Meaning Motion and Body Language are complete works in and of themselves. But by inviting interaction they become new entities that include the participant in the creation and meaning-making process. This makes for a distinctly different experience to that usually afforded the viewer at an exhibition, where looking is the extent of participation. In this exhibition, you’re called on to literally play a part.

Meaning, Motion, Body Language

The exhibition is showing until 18th August 2013 at the Wits Art Musuem, Johannesburg.

* All images © Layla Leiman check her blog here.

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